RIYADH – Saudi Arabia will issue tourist visas for the first time, as it is another move by the conservative kingdom to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
Promoting tourism is one of the main goals of the Vision 2030 plan, designed by Prince Mohammed bin Salman to prepare Saudi Arabia for a post-oil era.
The announcement comes just two weeks after attacks hit two Saudi refineries, an action by which the United States accuses Iran without evidence of being involved in. This has sparked a fear of war in the region and made the energy market very hectic.
“Opening Saudi Arabia for tourists is a historic moment for our country,” said Tourism Minister Ahmed al-Khateeb, according to published by AFP.
He claimed that visitors will be surprised by the treasures they have to share, five World Heritage sites and vibrant culture and stunning natural beauty.
Archaeological sites and Bedouin culture
The kingdom will open online visa applications for citizens of 49 countries on Saturday. In addition, Khateeb said the country’s dress code would be loosened for foreign women, allowing them to walk the streets without being completely covered. However, they should dress in a “moderate” manner.
Visas to enter the Saudi nation are currently restricted to expatriate workers, their dependents and Muslim pilgrims traveling to holy places such as Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia, however, has archaeological sites that can attract visitors in addition to its rich Bedouin heritage.
The Saudi prince has been trying to modernize the kingdom and has taken some liberalizing measures, such as opening theaters and allowing women to drive. However, the Saudi government still remains one of the top human rights violations, without political expression completely suppressed and the execution of Shi’ites being widespread and common in the Wahhabi country. The country has a long history of financing and supporting radical Islam, making it a dangerous destination for foreigners.